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D5 champs face stiff tests

Bedford and Bald Eagle Area meet for the second consecutive season in the first round of the PIAA Class 3A football playoffs when the two teams collide tonight in a 7 p.m. game at Hollidaysburg’s Tiger Stadium.

Bald Eagle Area won last year’s matchup, 35-14 at Mansion Park, but BEA coach Jesse Nagle is quick to point out that this is a different year.

“We won last year, but that doesn’t (automatically) mean that we’re going to win this year,” Nagle said. “(Bedford) is a good football team.”

BEA carries a 9-3 record into tonight’s game after pounding Westmont Hilltop, 41-13 in last Saturday’s District 6 Class 3A championship game. Bedford (10-2) blanked Westinghouse, 26-0 in the District 5-8-9 title game last Friday.

“They’re definitely a team that is going to play disciplined football,” Nagle said of the Bisons. “They run the option well, they have multiple playmakers, and they try to get the ball into their hands as much as possible.”

Sophomore quarterback Mercury Swaim has completed 47 of 90 passes for 757 yards and six touchdowns for Bedford, while rushing for 703 yards on 95 carries and 12 scores. Junior running back Elijah Cook has rushed for 837 yards on 118 carries and 14 TDs for Bedford.

Bald Eagle Area is led by senior quarterback Jaden Jones, who has completed 80 of 153 passes for 1,182 yards and 16 touchdowns, while rushing for 432 yards on 85 carries and four scores.

“Jones is a heck of a quarterback,” Bedford coach Kevin Steele said. “He runs the ball well, and he throws it well, so limiting their big plays will be one of our top priorities.”

In a first-round PIAA Class 2A playoff game at 7 p.m. tonight at Somerset Area High School, District 5 Class 2A champion Chestnut Ridge (9-2) meets unbeaten District 10 powerhouse Wilmington (10-0). Wilmington has reached the PIAA state championship game at Hershey in both of the past two seasons, losing to Southern Columbia both times.

“They’re a two-time state finalist that is shooting to make it to Hershey for the third season in a row,” Chestnut Ridge coach Max Shoemaker said of Wilmington. “They’re a traditionally very successful program, and they have a system in place that is hard to match up with.”

Ridge won its fourth consecutive District 5 Class 2A title last Friday by defeating Berlin Brothersvalley, 41-20. Junior quarterback Logan Pfister leads Ridge’s offense with 1,693 passing yards on 125 completions in 193 attempts for 10 touchdowns, while rushing for 724 yards on 128 carries and 14 scores.

Ridge had lost its last two regular-season games before capturing the district title game.

“I think we struggled there in losses to Bishop Guilfoyle and Richland, so it was nice to get back on track and get a nice win against a good Berlin squad,” Shoemaker said.

Another area District 5 squad, Tussey Mountain (11-1), will face a stiff challenge on Saturday afternoon, when the Titans take on defending state champion Farrell (10-2) of District 10 in a PIAA Class 1A first-round playoff game. Kickoff is 1 p.m. at Slippery Rock University.

“They’ve got a lot of good athletes, they’re loaded with a bunch of good players, but I think we’re capable of coming out and winning the football game, that’s for sure,” Tussey Mountain coach Anthony Sottasante said of the matchup with Farrell.

Tussey, which boasts a potent offense, won the District 5 Class 1A championship game, 28-23 last Friday over Northern Bedford. Tussey’s rushing game is led by seniors Kaden Lucko (1,539 yards on 249 carries and 14 touchdowns) and Tyler Rhodes (1,020 yards on 99 carries and nine scores). Senior quarterback Matt Leonard became the school’s all-time passing leader earlier this year, and has completed 86 of 151 attempts for 1,319 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Elsewhere:

In other PIAA playoff games involving teams from the Mirror coverage area tonight, State College (10-1) meets Delaware Valley High School (11-1) in a Class 6A first-round matchup at Hazleton Area High School, while Bellefonte (9-2) faces defending state champion Cathedral Prep (10-2) in a Class 4A first-round game at Clarion University. Both kickoffs are set for 7 p.m.

In a District 6 Class 2A championship game not involving area teams, two unbeaten squads — Ligonier Valley (12-0) and Richland (11-0) — square off at 7 p.m. tonight at Mansion Park.

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